Thursday, June 5, 2008

Don't let Jamie Walker pitch indoors or versus lefties

The Orioles bullpen consists of two left-handed relievers: closer George Sherrill and Jamie Walker. Sherrill has done a solid job as the Orioles closer; he is 19 for 21 in save opportunities and has a more than respectable 3.16 ERA. He has a tendency to make things a little interesting in the ninth inning when he comes into the game by usually allowing a runner or two, but he's definitely been getting the job done and may end up being the lone Oriole player in the 2008 All-Star Game.

While Sherrill has pitched well, Jamie Walker (4.76 ERA, 1.82 WHIP) has not. Walker is the left-handed specialist in the bullpen, but there is one rather large problem with that: he can't get lefties out this season. As of today, left-handed batters are hitting .396 against Walker, while right-handed batters are only hitting .261 against him. Also, all four of the home runs he has allowed have been to lefties.

His struggles against left-handed hitters don't seem to make much sense. For his career, Walker has allowed lefties to hit only .238 against him.

Besides struggling against lefties, Walker hasn't had much fun pitching indoors either. In 15.1 innings pitched outdoors, Walker has given up four earned runs, which is good enough for a 2.35 ERA. But in only 1.2 innings pitched indoors, Walker has allowed five earned runs, which is bad enough for an ERA of 27.

Other than the struggles of Walker and occassionally Chad Bradford (2.95) and Dennis Sarfate (3.28), the Orioles bullpen has been outstanding. Jim Johnson (1.39) is performing superbly in the setup-man role, and Matt Albers (2.20) has been a flexible reliever who can pitch multiple innings at a time when needed. Because of such strong performances, the Orioles bullpen currently ranks seventh in team bullpen ERA in MLB at 3.22 -- just 0.01 behind the Oakland A's at number six.

In order to keep improving, the O's bullpen needs Walker to start retiring more lefties, and it needs to stop walking so many opposing hitters. The bullpen has handed out 95 walks -- fifth most in MLB.

But with the way the bullpen pitched last season, the bullpen's performance in 2008 has been a 180-degree turn-around. What a relief. (No pun intended.)

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